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He started to work on his stamp collection when the telephone rang. It was Frank Knox, secretary of the Navy, calling to inform the president that the nation was under attack. The Japanese were bombing Pearl Harbor. FDR shouted, no, in a loud voice. The surprise attack on one of America's most strategic naval bases shocked the nation and the world. It would turn out to be the worst military defeat in American history, killing 2,403 soldiers, sailors, and civilians.
The Japanese damaged or destroyed 19 US Navy ships, including eight battleships and more than 300 airplanes. It was the worst day of Roosevelt's presidency, and by all accounts, the worst day of his life. The state of world affairs was equally grim. Hitler and the Nazis controlled Europe and North Africa.
England and Russia were hanging on for dear life. This was not Roosevelt's first brush with war. He was the undersecretary of the Navy during World War I. He knew that this was no time for Americans to wallow in pity or despair. He had work to do. He had a nation to rally.
Roosevelt's two speechwriters were in New York at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor and did not help him with the most consequential speech of his presidency. He knew this speech. This speech had to be written by himself. Early that Sunday evening, he called in his secretary, Grace Tully, and dictated the first draft without hesitation or second thoughts. It was concise.
It was clear. Roosevelt understood the speech had to match the moment. Then Roosevelt began light editing, making just a few crucial changes by hand. The most important was the substitution of one word that changed the nature and character of the speech. The original draft read, a day that will live in history. The edited and final version read, a day that will live in infamy, providing the speech its most famous phrase and giving birth to the term, the day of infamy speech, which he delivered to a joint session of Congress in the early afternoon of December 8, 1941. The speech was a mere 518 words and lasted just six and a half minutes. It was simulcast on radio across the country. This was, of course, before television and cable and the internet.
An astounding 81% of Americans gathered around their radios to hear the president's address, the largest audience ever compiled in American history. Within an hour, Congress voted to declare war on the Empire of Japan. The vote was 82 to 0 in the Senate and 388 to 1 in the House.
Montana Representative Jeanette Rankin, the first woman ever elected to Congress and a lifelong pacifist, was the lone no vote. When Germany and Italy declared war on the United States just a few days later, the United States quickly reciprocated. America was at war once again. Here is the day of infamy speech as it happened in the early afternoon of December 8, 1941.
Yesterday, December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy. The United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan. The United States was at peace with that nation and at solicitation of Japan, still in conversation with its government and its emperor, looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific. Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American island of Oahu, the Japanese ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to our Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message.
And while this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or of armed attack. It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time, the Japanese government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace. The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.
Japan has therefore undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday and today speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications for the very life and safety of our nation. As Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense, but always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us. No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory. I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost, but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us. Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory, and our interests are in grave danger.
With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph, so help us God. I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire. On that rousing applause, while that wasn't just in the chamber, Americans across the country were applauding in front of their radio sets. I know because my mom told me the story.
She'd been listening herself in West New York, New Jersey, with her family and several others. It was a moment she told me she'd never forget. With confidence, FDR said, in our armed services, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph, so help us God.
The story of the Day of Infamy speech, how it came to be here on Our American Stories. Introducing Uber Teen Accounts, an Uber account for your teen with always-on enhanced safety features. Your teen can request a ride when you can't take them. You'll get real-time notifications along the way. Your teen can feel a sense of independence. You can follow their entire route on a live tracking map. Your teen will get assigned the top-rated drivers.
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